A Brand Audit of Stephen King’s Dark Tower.
Twelve. The man in black first fled across the desert with the gunslinger and I following, when I was twelve years old. And just like that, I became one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers – devouring each novel and short story – each overlapping universe – with a voracity only a shy, introverted pre-teen could know. Hell, even those about baseball, a painfully boring topic for nearly all Canadians. Such is the power of The Gunslinger – King’s introduction to the sweeping Dark Tower series; a self-described (and rightfully so) eight-novel magnum opus, that it remains one of the very few things that can still, without fail, transport me back to the summer of 1987 like a well-worn paper DeLorean, when I first found it (or as Stephen King might say – it found me) discarded in the parking lot of the community hall down the street from my house. Indeed, all things serve the Beam. But, all things also serve the Brand… [bctt tweet=”Brands exist everywhere and every when that an emotional connection is made.” username=”good_bishop”]
And while brand evolution and refinement is inevitable and acceptable, disassociation and alienation is not. Not between commodity and marketing, not between decades, and certainly not between adaptations across multiple mediums. I know I’ve REALLY buried my lead here, but I need you all (hopefully my own small, but growing band of Constant Readers) to understand just what I had invested in this epic tale when I ran into the local big-screen theatre, thrumming with 30 years worth of pent-up anticipation, to finally witness Roland shoot with his mind and kill with his heart. Now this is NOT a review of what I saw – there are plenty of those to be found online… unfortunately none all too kind. Should you like to form your own opinion, however, I urge you to go out and see the movie. Or better yet, get comfy and read through the entire Dark Tower series yourself. Go on. It’s worth it. I’ll wait…
What I WILL tell you, is that I ran into the dark of the theatre with the open heart of a twelve year old boy hoping to renew a lost love affair from so many summers ago, and stomped out much older and darker myself, having witnessed an opening night brand bloodbath of such monstrous proportions it could only have been imagined by the master of macabre himself.
While blatantly disregarding the sprawling complexity of the Dark Tower multi-worlds, multi-verses, and critical multi-plots (let’s even forget for now the overlapping back stories and characters that serve the Tower throughout nearly two-thirds of his previous work) King and the Hollywood Machine have generated a pasteurized tale that, while easily accessible to a wider audience, completely alienates the existing core audience of Constant Readers. To be fair, I will point out that as per recent interviews, King has claimed that the film is actually a re-imagining of sorts, and a sequel to the events of the book series, following the gunslinger on his next cycle to the Dark Tower. As a fan, I want to accept and be at peace with this. I really do. But as a brand strategist I am reluctant to swallow this excuse as nothing less than convenient mismanagement of brand.
There are so many pretty ways to describe the nebulous notion of brand. Brands live and breathe. Brands must be liquid to respond to the needs and wants of your audience. Brands are the beating heart of your organization, your community, or in this case, your entire storied universe. However you wrap your mind around it, understand that
The author’s brand (reputation) sells the book. The book’s brand (story) builds a community of loyal, like-minded readers. You can’t be something to everyone, Mr. King, but you can be everything to someone. You are everything to the Constant Reader.
Rarely can the entire plot of a novel be captured on film. I get that. And, while I am, and will always be, a loyal reader of Stephen King’s works, my devotion is not completely blind. I certainly expected flaws (can a movie EVER take us back in time like a much loved book?) but what I did NOT expect was a watered-down ‘mashable’ of books one and three (The Waste Lands) devoid of the brand essence and heart that made the series so endearing, so IMPORTANT, in the first place.
When the decision was made to wander from the true essence of the brand story in favour of a safer, blander shotgun approach, the sacred bond between authentic, relevant brand and core, loyal audience was severed. Perception, promise and expectation were compromised for the sake of capturing new audiences through ticket sales and the re-release of a book that in no way resembled the product on screen. While expansion into new markets is not an irresponsible goal, alienation of your fan base in the pursuit of profit is an irresponsible act. This isn’t to say, however, that brands can’t move, can’t be liquid, and can’t live and breathe and grow…
Is it ok to rebrand or reinvent yourself, your organization, or your work?
Of course it is – so long as while attracting new audiences, your loyal audiences are made to feel that they are part of this exploration and evolution process. Include them in the conversation to temper their expectations and build excitement and anticipation for new chapters ahead, rather than blindsiding them with an unexpected wrecking ball. This is their story – not yours. This is for their betterment as much as it is for yours. They are not casual viewers to your work. Rather, you, through the work, are a plot-driving protagonist within the stories of their lives. You are helping them to define themselves – answering such questions as “Where do I belong?” or “Who will I be if I experience and enjoy this?” and even more importantly. “How the hell did I ever survive without this?”
So go (and contact us) – expose and explore your brands piece-by-piece (or book-by-book) – just don’t ever forget who you are, what you’re doing, and whom you’re doing it for. Stay relevant and true and don’t ever betray the essence, the passion or the heart of the work, and for the love of all that is holy and sacred, stick to that one true promise – one expectation – per brand and make damn sure that you are delivering on this promise at all touch-points, from media and communications to marketing and yes, to adaptation from print to screen.
Brand missteps will happen, and when they do, thank the powers that be for brand equity and a devoted army of forgiving followers (I still love ya Steve!), and sure, there are other worlds than these out there for us to enjoy – but to the Constant Reader, this was OUR world. The one we were all waiting for. For some of us, since we were 12 years old…